Scuppered across an entrance to Portland Harbour as a defence mechanism in World War One, this wreck landed upside-down and, as JOHN LIDDIARD reports, makes an interesting dive for all abilities. Illustration by MAX ELLIS
NOTE: Since this Wreck Tour first appeared, diving the Hood
has been prohibited by Portland Harbour Authority
The usual starting point for a dive on the Hood is a buoy outside the harbour entrance, a little to the south. The buoy is out of the current and makes an easy entry-point to descend to the blocks at the foundation of the breakwater (1). From here, a guide-rope leads between boulders and scraps of wreckage to a post on the port side of the wreck (2).
Turning aft, a few metres’ swim brings you to the slope of stone blocks leading back to the breakwater wall, and a U-shaped piece of debris from the propeller-shaft cover (3). Above the deck (from a diver’s point of view) some large plates have broken free, giving easy access to the inside (4).
As the ship is upside-down, heavy battleship machinery originally attached to the decks is now suspended from the ceiling. The weight of this machinery and that of the hull from time to time causes parts of the wreck to collapse inwards, particularly towards the centre of the wreck near the engine-room.
Although it is unstable, few divers can resist dipping quickly inside and popping out again a few metres further forward where some more plates have broken loose (5). But do take care. If you decide to go in, remember to look up and make sure you are not venturing beneath anything that could be about to squash you.
Also beware of going too far. It is easy to get drawn in by going just a little bit further, then a little bit further, until a quick look has turned into a major wreck penetration that you might not be equipped or trained for.
Back on the outside, moving forwards, the superstructure is buried up to the base of a secondary gun-turret (6). Next to the turret base a large hatchway (7) provides access to the space behind the secondary armament. An empty gun-port (8) provides similar access to the interior of the wreck.
A few metres above the seabed, a metal grating sticks out perpendicular to the hull (9). This used to be a walkway along the side of the armoured citadel. Although the gun-ports lower down are more interesting, above the walkway there are quite a few small holes in the hull and gaps left where portholes have been removed (10). Checking carefully in nooks and crannies can often reveal tompot blennies and the occasional small scorpionfish.
Another secondary turret base (11) is followed by a gap in the armour where plates have broken loose (12) and there is a 1m-long girder frame that might have been part of a hoist.
Interesting features along the edge of the deck include a hoist and pulley, a huge pair of bollards and similarly sized deck-cleats. Under the bows the armoured deck has separated from a huge circular turret base that supports the wreck above the seabed (13). If the tide is running, a large shoal of bib will probably be holding position here against the current that surges through beneath the wreck.
The tip of the bow has been broken to leave a square hole filled with broken and crumpled steel plate (14). Close to the seabed is a battleship-sized anchor-chute.
Swimming up above the keel, the first few metres are intact, but you will soon come to a break where plates have collapsed and the entire line of the keel has sagged inwards several metres (15). This break goes most of the way to the stern and is full of the jumbled remains of the battleship’s machinery.
Over the past winter, the engine-room (16) has noticeably collapsed inwards. The ends of boilers and huge cranks and gear wheels are particularly impressive.
Aft of the engine-room, follow a valley between the port propshaft and the keel (17). Missing plates on the sides of the keel provide a view through the wreck.
The end of the propshaft (18) has broken from one of its mounts where the hull has collapsed and folded, leaving it attached by a solid steel wing to the keel just forward of the rudder (19). More stone blocks rest against the hull, filling the gap between the stern and the breakwater.
From here it is easy to navigate back to the post to which the guide-rope is attached and follow the rope back up to the buoy. On the way, keep an eye out for unusual marine life. This is a good area to spot black-faced blennies, cuttlefish and octopuses. Last time I dived the Hood, one of the other divers even saw a john dory close to the breakwater wall.
RELUCTANT TO GO QUIETLY
A bitch to the last! That was one Royal Navy captain’s verdict on HMS Hood, writes Kendall McDonald. She had just capsized as they were scuttling her across the southern entrance to Portland Harbour in 1914.
Perhaps the Hood didnt deserve that epitaph, but since her launch in 1891, the 14,150-ton armoured monster had become known throughout the fleet as a good-looker but a lousy sailer.
She was weighed down with heavily armoured turrets that the First Sea Lord, Sir Arthur Hood, had insisted were installed to house her big guns.
This extra weight lowered her freeboard so that she needed dead calm to proceed at speed, otherwise great green seas came aboard and the whole ship was covered in clouds of spray, making gunnery impossible.
So it is not surprising that shortly after her completion in 1893, the 116m warship was sent to the calmer waters of the Mediterranean. She stayed there for nine years, was put on reserve duties and then transferred to Portland as a target for torpedo practices. Her guns were taken out – they had never once fired a shot in anger.
Shortly after the outbreak of World War One, on 4 November, 1914, the Hood was sunk across the southern entrance to Portland to stop any crafty U-boat commander firing torpedoes into the anchored Channel Fleet. But she didn’t go quietly.
Once she was towed into position, the seacocks were opened so that she would sink gracefully and upright.
However, it took so long that the tide turned and started to pull her out of place. Explosives were hurriedly used to blow a hole in her side – then she filled too quickly, did a port roll, and crashed completely upside-down into the seabed.
GETTING THERE: For Weymouth follow the A37 or A354 to Dorchester, then the A354 to Weymouth. Avoid the seafront and continue on the A354 along the back of the harbour. Turn left just before the fire station. From there it depends on the boat you‘re meeting. For Portland continue on the A354 past Chesil Beach, turning left to the old dockyard area as the road starts to climb on to Portland.
DIVING AND AIR: Dive-centres in the Weymouth and Portland area run shuttle boats to the Hood. From Weymouth: Channel Chieftain; Tiger Lily; White Horse; Wey Chieftain II; Old Harbour Dive Centre and Weymouth Scuba Centre also supply air. From Portland: Fathom and Blues, which also does air; and Portland Dive Centre. Check the website Deepsea for charter-boats.
TIDES: Slack is at high water Portland and 5 hours before high water Portland. Experienced divers can usually use the shelter provided by the wreck to dive it at any state of the tide.
HOW TO FIND IT: The Hood lies directly across the southern entrance to Portland Harbour at 50.34.08N, 2.25.12W (degrees, minutes and seconds). Local dive-centres maintain a small buoy just south of the wreck about 5m outside the harbour wall.
LAUNCHING: The nearest slips are in Portland Harbour.
QUALIFICATIONS: At slack the Hood is suitable for training dives, but with the tide running, the wreck requires more experience.
FURTHER INFORMATION: Admiralty Chart 2255, Approaches To Portland And Weymouth. Admiralty Chart 3315, Berry Head To Bill Of Portland. Ordnance Survey Map 194, Dorchester, Weymouth And Surrounding Area. Dive Dorset, by John and Vicki Hinchcliffe. The Divers Guide To Weymouth And Portland Area, Weymouth and Portland BSAC.
PROS: A largely intact wreck in shallow and sheltered water, with lots to interest everyone from beginners to experienced wreckies.
CONS: Can be crowded at weekends, particularly in the afternoon when many divers from offshore trips make their second dives. Strong currents in the harbour entrance.
Many thanks to Steve Kendall, Alex Poole, Nigel Holder, John Walker, Chris Caines & Pat Carlin
Appeared in Diver, September 1999